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How To Be Effective At Social Marketing Without Content Curation

By October 21, 2014November 23rd, 2017Podcast, Readings, Social Marketing
How To Be Effective At Social Marketing Without Content Curation

Modern Marketing Wisdom Goes Something Like This…

If you want to be successful at social marketing then you need to share other people’s content 80% of the time and your own content 20% of the time.

I don’t know what the source of this… let me say it… idiotic advice is but I would very much like to know who decided that this was the magic ratio. And then I want to know who decided to repeat it and who decided to believe it so that now you can’t throw a social stone without someone spouting this nonsense as marketing gospel.

This is one of those things like a diamond engagement ring being worth two months’ salary that was canned and sold to us as truth and for some reason everyone believed it.

Let’s see if I can start a new trend today. Everyone who reads this blog has to send me a check for $82. That’s it. That’s how you read this blog the right way. What are you waiting for? Go write me a check and then tell all your friends to do it, too. Write blog posts about it. Share it on your Facebook page.

Let me put this into perspective in a more meaningful way. Imagine if I told you that you had to dedicate 80% of the space on your website to other businesses. Then on the remaining 20% you could talk about your services.

Or what if I told you that you had to spend 80% of your day helping the guy down the block work on his business plan and then the other 20% of the time you could run your own business.

It sounds just as idiotic as it is.

So why, then, do we so easily accept the fact that we need to devote 80% of our social real estate and 80% of our precious time to sharing and advertising for other people on our social networks?

If you can explain that I’ll buy you a cupcake.

A Place For Content Curation

There is nothing inherently wrong with content curation. You may enjoy sharing fun finds with your audience. You may participate in cross-promotional communities like Triberr or Social Buzz Club where you essentially curate and share content that fits your niche.

If nobody shared anything it would be a sad internet, indeed.

But that’s not the same thing as content curation taking front and center in your social marketing strategy.

So if you really find something you love and want to share it, go ahead. There’s nothing wrong with sharing and curating and if it generates interest and engagement then that’s a good thing.

But if you’re stuck in 80/20 thinking about what you “need” to share then we’re about to do a little mental reprogramming.

The Argument For Content Curation

The argument for content curation goes something like this: It’s not good to be self-promotional all the time. Nobody wants to be inundated by your selfish content.

But that argument assumes that there are only two options: curate or be an annoying self-centered jerk.

I’m about to give you a list of ideas that are neither.

Another argument in favor of content curation says that you’ll help your audience get to know you through the content you share.

And I say… ok, that sounds cool.

But why do they need to get to know you through someone else’s content? Would it not seem more likely that they’ll get to know you through your own content, the content that actually reflects you and your brand and your personality?

This is also a bit of a circular argument because if the idea of curation is to “find content your audience loves” then you’re by default finding content that reflects them and not you. So then should we assume that they’ll get to know you better through the content you share that you think they’ll like? It sounds as absurd as it is.

I’ve led with all this because I want you think differently about content curation and stop repeating the party line about acceptable share ratios. And if you’re going to repeat it then I at least want some good statistics to prove that curation is making you more money and building your relationships better than anything else. At least 80% of the time.

I Know A Guy

One last thing before I get into the alternatives to curation.

We recently interviewed a business owner on our podcast about his social strategy. If you haven’t listened I highly recommend it because it’s full of actionable advice.

At any rate, this guy does exactly zero content curation. Go look at his Facebook page. I guarantee you won’t find a single post that isn’t related to his business.

And yet he doesn’t sound like a self-promotional jerk. In fact, he generates a ton of business and goodwill through social media.

All without curating content.

And if you think he is some sort of special magical unicorn, I also want you to look at the Facebook pages of some big, popular brands. Skittles. Coca Cola. American Express. And I want you to tell me how much content curation they do.

I suspect that us small businesses have been fed a big, fat wad of rubbish when it comes to this mythical 80/20 rule.

So now that I’ve hopefully flipped that switch and got you thinking that there might be a better way to spend 80% of your social marketing time and budget, let’s talk about what you can do.

Post Photos (And Stories) Of Your Customers

What better testimonial for your business than photos of happy, smiling customers?

You can fake a glowing review but it’s a little harder to fake a real, happy person.

Sharing photos of customers (using your product or involved with your product, service or business in some way) is neither curating nor being obnoxiously self-promotional.

In fact, I have a hard time thinking of anyone who isn’t excited to be recognized and mentioned publicly.

Sharing customer photos and stories puts them at the center of your marketing. It lets them get to know you. It builds goodwill and relationships. And it’s exactly the kind of proof you need to sell your products or services.

You can write exceptional marketing copy and fill your website with the most amazing benefit-driven content but you’ll sell better every time if people can see people who are pleased to work with you.

You can even have customers post photos or stories of their own. A customer of mine lets people submit their own photos and stories about his product right on his website. Then each person gets a link to share their post socially.

Now he’s got his own little network running, promoting his products and service, almost without his help.

Post Photos (And Stories) Of Your Employees

Even if it’s just you, people like to see the faces behind a business. Now, don’t go nuts on the duck-faced selfies, but do take photos of you and your staff at work, in the office, attending events, working with customers.

Add captions or a little bit of exposition and you’ve got yourself a story.

Can you think of a better and more fun way to let people get to know you than… well, actually letting them get to know you?

If you can get you and a customer in the same photo, that’s an extra win.

One day as Ralph and I were driving up the New Jersey Turnpike, we came up alongside a truck bearing the logo of one of our customers. A logo we had designed for them! You can bet your booties that the iPhones came out and photos got snapped and Instagrammed and Facebooked and Tweeted all over the place.

Share Behind The Scenes Photos Of Your Workplace

One of the most popular photos to circulate from our office is of a row of guitars that we have hanging on one wall. In fact, those guitars get mentioned almost every time they show up in a photo, even in the way way background.

People like to see the faces behind a business but they also like to see the personalities. Those guitars give them a little glimpse into our lives and many people can relate to playing a favorite instrument.

We’ve had other scenery show up in photos, from artwork to our Tardis door to my pile of Hello Kitties.

These are all ways people can get to know us and none of it involves Ralph or me spending hours in search of the perfect piece of curated content.

Even if you think you have the most boring office on the planet, you can find something. The point is not to be endlessly fascinating but to be real. Got nothing but a mile of cement hallway between you and the kitchen area? I bet at an interesting angle and with a thoughtful comment you can turn that into a glimpse behind your scenes.

Most of us are intrigued by a look into other people’s lives, even if it’s just the color of their dishtowels or the size of their desks. You’ve got material all around you that is presenting the perfect opportunity to help people get to know you. All it takes is that you open your eyes and look.

Ask Questions

You can use questions in a number of ways. You can use them to get feedback. To test the waters for your ideas. To have some fun.

When we were releasing our podcast we asked our social audiences to choose their favorite cover design. It was helpful for us and fun for them. And it got people involved in a way that a link to someone else’s blog or content could not.

People love to be heard and to share things about themselves. That’s why every time a question circulates on Facebook like “list your ten favorite books” you see it repeated again and again and again and everyone tags all their friends and keeps it going.

Ask people their favorite/least favorite, best/worst and you’re bound to get a response. Crafting a good, engaging question is a bit of an art, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t see a thousand replies out of the gate. Test, try and figure out what does engage your audience.

That’s what social networking is about anyway!

Talk To People

This is the very definition of “being social”.

When you talk to people you don’t have to curate content. You don’t even have to create content. It’s not self-promotional. And if you do it with genuine intent then it’s how the human race has been getting to know each other since before the invention of fire.

Respond to the their questions. Comment on their content. Mention something of interest to them, ask a question, start a conversation. Teenagers have been doing it at parties for generations. Figure out how to be a teenager again and join the party.

Where This Can Work

Granted, there are certain limitations to how you can execute these on different social networks.

On Facebook, for example, you can ask your customers to tag themselves in photos but you (as a business page) can’t do it for them. Don’t let that stop you! Get your customers involved.

Think outside the box a little and you can engage with other business pages – as your page.

Pinterest is great for photos. You can even create group boards where you can have your customers pin right along with you.

If you want to talk to or mention someone directly, Twitter is a great option. Not only can you @ mention someone but that conversation is then available in your public stream for everyone to see so that it’s very obvious that you’re actually present and engaging.

Instagram is perfect for those on-the-fly moments. Birthday cake at the office. Guitars hanging on the wall. Try to avoid drunk-Friday-at-the-bar… there is a danger to those off the cuff photos so do be mindful of what’s appropriate and what’s an over-share.

Stories, questions and photos can go with you anywhere.

Now what do you think of the 80/20 rule? Still think that spending the vast majority of your time finding and posting other people’s content is the key to your social success?

I hope I’ve helped you think differently and given you some actionable ideas to replace all that “other” stuff you’re so busy sharing.

Get busy, you’ve got some social marketing to do. And when you’re ready with your first photo, story, question or comment, post it for us to see and engage with, too. You can do that on our Facebook page or ping us on Twitter.

I look forward to connecting and getting to know more about you!

Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Krithika Rangarajan says:

    Trust you to always swim against the ‘tide’, Carol!!! #HUGSSS I thoroughly enjoyed your article. I love sharing interesting content from other sources, but your post has certainly ignited my creativity.

    Honestly, I don’t think there is any formula for success, so t’s great to find someone who reaffirms this for me.

    Thank you


    • Well, you said it best right there: there is NO FORMULA! People who want to believe the 80/20 rule insist on thinking there is. Share whatever you want, whatever works. But stop thinking of it as a “rule”!

  • Catherine Maino says:

    Good points and I don’t disagree. Although I might argue that Coke, Skittles and American Express have a staff of writers and social directors to provide content. Most small businesses have one person. That one person is striving to service and acquire business. It can be a challenge to continually come up with new content. I also like to share great content that is relevant to my business category or my clients. But creating your own content certainly should be more than 20%. No formula…agreed Krithika.

    • That’s absolutely true – sometimes curating is the path of least resistance and it can keep you “present” without requiring a ton of time. Like I said, curating isn’t the problem – but the idea that we HAVE TO – and more specifically, have to do it according to some weird ratio – that’s the problem. There’s also a misperception that we have to constantly be churning out content. If we put out less, but of higher quality, that would give us more time and better results, too.

      • Catherine Maino says:

        Agreed! What use to be believed is a “numbers game” is now, and finally, about the quality and engagement. Thanks for responding! 🙂

  • Opentopic says:

    Carol, appreciated your insight on this topic.

    With so much content, and so much data out there, it can be hard for true industry standards to be developed. As a content marketing platform, our team are certainly advocates of content curation. Though, we believe that the best content marketing strategy should incorporate the most appropriate mix that supports your organizations’ specific needs. Many progressive content marketers are using a content mix that is only 65% created, with the remainder being 25% curated and 10% syndicated. The important piece of curating, which I think many marketers miss out on, is how to curate in a way that is purposeful to the brand. Becoming a thought-leader in your industry, sure, but also helping you achieve business goals in a clear way.


    Shana Pilewski
    Social Media Manager, Opentopic

    • Hi Shana,

      Thanks for chiming in. I’m on board with your statement that there should be an “appropriate mix” of content. I love curating as part of that mix – finding great content and sharing it is fun for me (as a person and as a brand) and fun (and educational) for my audience. My contention is when someone tries to define that “appropriate mix” as a very specific 80/20 ratio and then everyone repeats it simply because they heard it somewhere else. I know people who do very well and generate a lot of business with no curation at all. It would be ridiculous to tell them that what they should really be doing is curating.

      There is also a false sense of either/or. Either create or curate. The fact is, you can use social media in a variety of ways, from actual engagement and interaction to customer-driven content. Like you said, it’s about business goals. Make sure that whatever you’re doing is helping you reach that end.